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Hoover Students Board ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’

Middle schoolers perform in pioneering Savoyards production of Gilbert & Sullivan classic.

Ashley Austin and Pedram Motevalli are in the big leagues. Before they’ve even reached high school, they’re going to perform in the Washington Savoyards’ production of "H.M.S. Pinafore."

It’s a "Young Artists" production, but most of the lead characters are played by seasoned actors in their 20s, and the performers all along with a 25-member orchestra during a rehearsal at Kensington last Saturday.

"We’re the youngest," said Motevalli, but he’s not intimidated. "The older people act like kids, too."

"We all share the same passion," Ashley Austin said.

The Savoyards are the Washington area’s premier Gilbert and Sullivan light opera company. The organization is 30 years old, but the upcoming "Pinafore" performance is its first-ever Young Artists production. Most of the performers are in the 13-25 age range, and they include Bullis sophomore Elizabeth Scher and Herbert Hoover Middle School students Austin, Motevalli, Genny Austin, Becca Murphy, Claire Grunes, Pedram Motevalli and Sara Arizona Bonner.

"They’re all true artists. They’re not afraid to be who they are," Genny Austin said.

THE HOOVER STUDENTS aren’t exactly green at this. Directing "Pinafore" is Pamela Leighton-Bilik, who directs Hoover students in an annual of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. Several have joined her on a trip to England to perform in the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival.

The Hoover students are accustomed to major roles in their school productions, but Bilik said they all embrace their supporting roles as chorus members in ‘Pinafore.’

"They understand that it’s a higher level of production," Bilik said. The kindness of the older performers helps. "This is the most closely bonded cast that I have ever worked with in my career," Bilik said.

It’s a family matter for three cast members. Ashley and Genny Austin are joined by their father Chris Austin. An experienced opera singer, Chris Austin takes a rare operetta turn and plays Captain Corcoran. "The Savoyards have a great reputation. I thought it would be fun," Chris Austin said.